Trentino Alto Adige is a strange corner of Italy: more Heidi’s playground than your typical sea & sun postcard from Italy. On the north-east border with Austria, its gorgeous Alpine scenery, flower-festooned wooden houses and German street signs give its past away: Trentino was part of the the Austrian-Empire, from the early 19th century to just after the first world war. This is reflected in its food: gulasch suppe, sauerkraut, apple strudel are common dishes.
Torta di grano saraceno is one of the most famous cakes from the area, a buckwheat and nut sponge cake, generally filled with a sharp berry jam (blueberry, black currant or raspberry jam). Continue reading →
Castagnaccio is one of the oldest sweet dishes in the Italian repertoire: chestnut flour whisked with water and a little olive oil, a few needles of rosemary for perfume, then baked until it turns into a sort of cake, a true poor people’s dessert in this most basic version. Chestnut flour is sweet and this makes adding sugar to the batter unnecessary. For greater extravagance, you could add pinenuts, walnuts and sultanas.
In Italy, well until the second world war, chestnuts were regarded as an important, cheap but nutritious food for a large section of the population – if you were poor, meat was an occasional luxury and beans and chestnuts were more likely to be part of your diet.
Truth be told, the castagnaccio you see in most bakeries now can be the stuff of nightmares: stodgy, to say the least, Continue reading →
Here’s another traditional recipe from Lombardy that honours I morti, All Souls. Pan di mort (literally “dead people’s bread”) are quintessential Lombardy biscuits that are sold in bakeries between the end of October and the first week in November. They are diamond-shaped, chocolatey, spicy biscuits, full of nuts and candied citrus peels, quite chewy but not crunchy. Continue reading →
Oss de mord is Lombardy dialect for the Italian ossa da mordere, which literally translates as “bones to bite”. They are almond, lightly spiced, crunchy biscuits traditionally made only around All Souls Day (il giorno dei morti, in Italian, the second day of November,) – they should resemble dry bones and are meant to honour i morti, the deceased ones. Continue reading →
Pittanchiusa (or Pitta ‘mpigliata o pittacupassule) is a typical Christmas pastry from Calabria, the southernmost part of the country. Strips of an olive oil and white wine pastry are filled with walnuts, raisins, orange zest, clove, cinnamon and syrupy vincotto, rolled into coils (or rosette, as we say in Italian, meaning “little roses” – much more poetic), doused with honey and baked into a glistening, caramelized, bronze-coloured “flower”.
Pittanchiusa is crisp and deliciously gooey at the same time, sweet, spicy, and citrusy, the muted bitterness of the walnuts counterbalancing the overall sweetness. It would be a pity to limit this lovely pastry to Christmas only. Continue reading →